10 Most Popular Desserts in America

By: Alia Hoyt & Sarah Gleim  | 

Americans favorite desserts
Americans may not have created some of the most popular desserts out there, but they've become known for putting their spin on several of the classics. Annie Japaud/Getty Images

Who doesn't crave a wonderful, decadent dessert, especially after dinner? The name itself comes from the French word "desservir," which in English means "to clear away," in this case, the food from dinner table. And depending on where you are in the world that could mean a variety of after-dinner sweet treats. In China, it might contain sweet red beans or dates. In Mexico, flan could be on the menu.

In the United States, the sweeter the dessert, the better. In fact, Americans might not have created some of the most popular desserts out there, but they've become known for putting their spin on several of the classics. Case in point: Apple pie wasn't created in the U.S. but it's as American as, well, apple pie. So what other desserts are among Americans' favorites? Join us as we count down the 10 most popular desserts the United States has to offer.

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10: Cheesecake

cheesecake
New York style cheesecake is made with cream cheese and always served without any toppings. Rebeca Mello/Getty Images

While you might think the cheesecake got its start in New York, its origins date back to ancient Greece and the island of Samos. Anthropologists have found cheese molds there that date back to circa 2000 B.C.E. and the first recipe for Greek cheesecake is credited to writer Athenaeus in 230 A.D. But it was Americans who added cream cheese to the cake in 1872. A New York dairy farmer accidentally created what we now know as Philadelphia Cream Cheese when he was trying to re-create French Neufchatel. While there are seemingly unlimited variations of cheesecake, New York style cheesecake uses cream cheese along with eggs, cream, sugar and usually a graham cracker crust. It's served plain with no other ingredients or toppings.

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9: Cupcakes

gourmet cupcakes
Gourmet cupcakes come in all kinds of flavors today, from Key lime pie and red velvet to cookies 'n' cream. Doug van Kampen, van Kampen Photo/Getty Images

Cupcakes aren't just for kids anymore. And if you want a dessert fix entirely personalized for you, head to your nearest gourmet cupcake shop. Americans are fascinated with cupcakes — and cupcake bakeries — and it's easy to see why. They're small, stunning and pint-sized versions of every cake flavor you can imagine.

You can expect to find everything from traditional vanilla and chocolate to more exotic flavors like Key lime pie, red velvet and cookies 'n' cream. Of course, you don't have to go to a gourmet shop to get them. You can also make perfect cupcakes at home using a muffin pan and decorative paper liners.

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8: Jell-O

Jello
One of the things that makes Jell-O so easy to love is it can be made into so many different desserts, like this strawberry cup with fresh fruit. HandmadePictures/Shutterstock

There's always room for Jell-O. At least that's what the dessert's vintage famous ad slogan says. Jell-O is actually a brand name, but it's has become synonymous with any kind of gelatin dessert and there's an undeniably fun appeal to the jiggling. It's easy to make and there's virtually no cleanup required. All you have to do is add boiling water to the powdered mix and chill for a few hours.

Here's something you might not know: Gelatin is a processed version of collagen, a natural protein found in the tendons, ligaments and tissues of mammals. It's made by boiling the connective tissues, bones and skins of animals. And yes, that's what Jell-O brand is made from, too. Take that powdered gelatin, add some artificial sweetener and food coloring, and you have a very popular dessert. Chalk one up for the advertising business.

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7: Carrot Cake

carrot cake
Carrot cake might be considered a "healthy" dessert because it's made with carrots, but it's still a rich, sweet cake. So don't kid yourself, just indulge yourself. Chalermsak/Shutterstock

Ah, carrot cake. Not only is it equal parts creamy and delicious, it's also quite possibly the best dessert to choose when you want to fool yourself into thinking you're being healthy. Carrots are good for you, so carrot cake can't be too bad, right? Well, not so much.

Made popular in the U.S. in the mid-20th century, carrot cake is a delightful blend of sweet and spicy cake rounded out with cream cheese frosting (made from cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract). Like many other desserts, carrot cake can be made using a traditional recipe or dressed up with extras like macadamia nuts, pineapple and coconut.

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Of course, if fat and calories are a concern, you can easily lighten it up by making a few simple adjustments, such as reducing the amount of sugar and oil and adding crushed pineapple to preserve moistness. Still, no matter what you do, calling carrot cake a healthy dessert will be a stretch, but it'll always be tasty.

6: Apple Pie

Apple Pie
The first apple pie can be traced back to the 14th century in Europe, but today it's become as much a symbol of America as baseball and the Fourth of July. Eldred Lim/Shutterstock

Nothing says America like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. But apple pie wasn't even created in the United States.

Apple pies or tarts date all the way back to Europe in the 14th century. The first apple pie recipes are from 1390, and they used honey in place of the seldom-used sugar. In the 1700s, the pie became pretty popular in the United Kingdom and was brought over to the new American colonies. Apple pie was regularly found in American cookbooks by the 18th century, but the famous ala mode version, topped with vanilla ice cream, didn't come into fashion until the 19th century in New York.

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Because of the "red, white and blue" connotations, you can find apple pie on picnic tables all over the country every Fourth of July when Americans celebrate their independence from England. The two most popular versions of the dessert are the traditional flakey crust variety and the Dutch, or crumb, apple pie. Most folks prefer it fresh and warm from the oven, but frozen apple pies are big sellers as well; just ask Sara Lee.

5: Ice Cream

Chocolate Ice Cream
There's not much better than a bowl of cold ice cream on a hot summer day. Sezeryadigar/Getty Images

The birthplace of ice cream isn't certain, but food historians generally credit it to the Chinese and the flavored ices they enjoyed as far back as 3000 B.C.E. Marco Polo is believed to be the man responsible for bringing the idea to Italy, where the modern ice cream we enjoy today was born in the 17th century. The first ice cream recipe in the United States is thought to be from the 1792 cookbook "The New Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice."

The invention of the hand-crank ice cream maker in 1843 allowed people to make it themselves, and homemade ice cream remains a popular dessert for American families today.

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Many flavors have come and gone over the years, but none rocked the ice cream world like cookies 'n' cream in 1979 and chocolate chip cookie dough in 1991.

4: Brownies

brownies
You can bake your brownies to be fudgy or cakey; and they can be plain or filled with nuts, chocolate chips or peanut butter, basically whatever your taste buds desire. Brian T. Evans/Getty Images

Served piping hot or at room temperature, made from scratch or from a mix, brownies are quite possibly one of the most versatile desserts out there, provided you enjoy a significant dose of chocolate. Some brownie connoisseurs prefer their creations to be more cake like, whereas others enjoy a fudgier, moister consistency. In general, how your brownies turn out is influenced by the number of eggs and fat you use in the recipe, as well as how long you bake them for.

Brownies can also be tailor-made to suit your taste buds. The traditional chocolate variety is a classic, enjoyable option, but some aspiring chefs prefer to include other ingredients to add some extra zing to the mix. For example, cream cheese, peanut butter or chocolate chips, coffee, white chocolate and icing are all popular add-ins. Their versatility alone is what makes brownies one of Americans' favorite desserts.

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3: Chocolate Chip Cookies

chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are the quintessential American cookie. Esther Chou/Getty Images

For cookie lovers, rarely is there a recipe more beloved than the classic chocolate chip. The mixture of cookie dough and those delicious semisweet chocolate morsels is hard to beat, especially when they come straight out of a hot oven. And chocolate chip cookies are quintessentially American. The recipe was created in the late '30s by Ruth Wakefield who ran the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts. Her recipe was so popular with her guests, it ran on Betty Crocker's radio program, and in 1939, Wakefield sold the recipe rights to Nestlé. Wakefield's original recipe is what we now know as Nestlé Toll House's Original Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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2: German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake
You can't go wrong with any kind of chocolate cake, especially a rich German chocolate cake. Chalermsak/Shutterstock

The first chocolate cakes in American history were actually "Mahogany cakes" and they date back to the late 1800s. Recipes for mahogany cakes first appeared cookbooks like Sarah Tyson Rorer's "The Philadelphia Cookbook" around 1886. Around the same time, Sam German was perfecting sweet baking chocolate for Baker's chocolate company, which they named for him. But "German's Chocolate" never caught on until late 1950. That's when the Dallas Morning Star published the recipe for what we now know as German chocolate cake; America fell hard, and the rest is history.

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1: Fudge

chocolate fudge
Fudge is a lot like brownies. You can make it plain or fill it with nuts, caramel, peanut butter or even exotic ingredients like chili peppers. Ekaterina Smirnova/Getty Images

The only problem with fudge is that it's nearly impossible to eat just a square or two. And in the world of fudge, there's a flavor for everyone. Traditionalists can stick with the milk or dark chocolate versions, while nut enthusiasts might incorporate walnuts or macadamias for a little extra crunch.

The best part about fudge is that it's easy to whip up, even for children. Plus, fudge makes an excellent gift for any occasion. If you've never had the pleasure of sampling homemade fudge, give it a try so that you'll forever understand why this rich sweet has captivated American dessert-lovers for more than 100 years.

Originally Published: Feb 23, 2009

Most Popular Desserts in the U.S.A.

What is the easiest dessert to make from scratch?
Jello is easy to make and there's virtually no cleanup required. All you have to do is add boiling water to the powdered mix and chill for a few hours.
What is the most popular dessert in America?
In the U.S., ice cream production is a whopping $8 billion industry.
What is the most popular bake sale item?
Cupcakes, cookies and brownies are some of the most common bake sale items because they're small and easy to distribute.
What is the most popular baked good in America?
Doughnuts. According to WebstaurantStore Blog, 123 million doughnuts were eaten in 2016 and nearly $350 million was spent on doughnuts.
What is the most popular dessert in America?
Cheesecake, cupcakes, jell-O, carrot cake, apple pie, ice cream, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake are the most popular desserts in America.

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